I have been flashing through my mind, since I saw the topic for the daily writing assignment today, of eating at the kitchen table when I was growing up. We had a dining room, of sorts, the other half of a living area with a bay window, but we rarely used it. Maybe Easter, maybe Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nearly all of our meals were eaten in the kitchen. Having given my mind a couple of hours to review and remember, I have to say that my favorite childhood meal was hot dogs and beans. Every Saturday night.
I remember spaghetti, and my mother’s was the best. I remember some of the Portuguese meals she prepared, and the huge round loaves of sweetbread from the grocery store, and sometimes handmade, with hard-boiled eggs inside. I wish my Mom was still around so I could ask her if that was her own invention, or a tradition. One of 10,000 questions I would like the chance to ask her these days. For me there are more things to wonder about, and that feel important to know, the older I get, and the more I see I missed and ignored back then.
Every Saturday we had hot dogs and beans. I am trying to remember the brand of hot dogs, Silver Leaf, Maple Leaf, something like that. This was in Wareham, Massachusetts growing up in the late 50s and 60s. (High School graduate 1967). I am guessing the packages of hot dogs were not blasting out their health features – no nitrates, no chemicals, grass feed, range and field roaming, whatever else – like the ones we buy at Trader Joe’s today. They were just packages of hot dogs. Eight or 10 to a pack. My mom cooked them in a large frying pan. Boiling hot dogs is a bad thing, okay in the ambiance of a ball park or clam bake or something, but never at home with options like a gas stove and a frying pan and butter, or margarine.
My Mom always grilled the hot dog rolls. That was part of the wonder, the presentation, the total mouthwatering experience. Grilled on a skillet, both sides buttered before the grilling, always a golden brown. Done just as the hot dogs were done. I had mustard and relish on mine. Sometimes onions chopped into very small squares or rectangles.
Then there were the beans. To this day I think it is a luxury to eat from a can of beans. We always bought B & M beans at the local grocery store – Beaton’s – five doors down (where we had a charge account, the tally written on an ongoing piece of paper). Today my wife prefers Bush beans, and they are good, just not B & M. Sometimes I sneak in a can of the good ones and act like she doesn’t notice. In addition to the beans, my mom would always buy a can of B & M brown bread. It’s a funny food, you open up both ends of the can and then push it out in a round roll. My Mom would put butter in a frying pan, or on the skillet, and fry that as well. Just thinking about it fills me with happiness.
And always there would be individual little bowls of salad – ice berg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, slices of onion, all torn and cut up beautifully and covered with Wishbone Italian dressing.
I had a friend from college come down to my parents house my junior year, on a Saturday, and he was absolutely floored how good it all was. Raved, gushed, blown away. It wasn’t just me.
It’s funny. My wife, step-daughter and I generally have hot dogs and beans on Saturday nights. Politically correct hot dogs, Bush beans, and most often rice. It’s good. I look forward to it. But you know what – and please don’t tell the wife — it’s not as good. Not the same.